He got up and then they fell. Nothing is ever easy in Aleksandar Mitrovic’s adventures, nor will there be an easy route from this cave to Fulham.
What a failed opportunity. What a breakdown. What a disappointing, messy way for Scott Parker’s side to miss their chance to breathe clean air into the outside world a few times.
They were close because they were safe for 17 minutes. Not safe in real, meaningful terms, but safe in this division’s second-to-second existence, and in that context, they briefly led Aston Villa, freeing them from the bottom three on goal difference.
Aston Villa came from behind and defeated Fulham 3-1 in the second half at Villa Park on Sunday
Trezeguet scored twice in three minutes after Fulham took the lead on the hour
The forward scored his first in the 78th minute before scoring his second (over) in the 81st
Villa attacker Ollie Watkins made it 3-1 with a tap-in after meeting Bertrand Traore’s pull-back
Aleksandar Mitrovic had put Fulham ahead by the hour with a first goal since September
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER REVIEWS
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Martinez 7; Cash 7, Konsa 6, Mings 6.5, Targett 6; McGinn 7, Luiz 6 (Ramsey 74,6), Sanson 5 (Davis 67,7); Traore 6, Watkins 6, El Ghazi 6 (Trezeguet 62, 7.5).
Subs not used: Heaton, Taylor, Nakamba, Barkley, English, El Mohamady.
Manager: Dean Smith 8
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Areola 6; Tete 7, Andersen 6.5, Tosin 6, Aina 6; Reed 6.5, Lemina 6.5 (Onomah 83); Reid 6.5, Loftus-Cheek 6 (house 83), Lookman 6 (Cavaleiro 47, 6); Mitrovic 7.
Subs not used: Ream, Bryan, Zambo, Kongolo, Ramirez, Robinson.
Booked: Andersen, Reid
Manager: Scott Parker 6.5
Ref: Andy Madley 6.5
To get there, they took the least profitable and least predictable road possible. The Mitrovic Path.
Good player in his day, Mitrovic, but not many of those days in club colors lately. There were 197 since his last league goal and two months since his last start in Fulham.
But there he was, around Emiliano Martinez in the 61st minute, and there was Fulham, cruising in 17th place, if only for a moment in time.
Villa hadn’t appeared at the time, and that’s really their story since Jack Grealish hurt his shin.
He had previously missed six games in a row and only five points and three goals had been collected in that series, so the late revelation that he would also be serving this game should have been a good thing for Fulham.
And that was it, 78 minutes long. Villa just wasn’t very good.
But then, driven by three substitutes, this game took a funny turn. With 12 minutes to play, one of the reinforcements, Trezeguet, leveled his first goal for the club. In the 81st minute, he scored another.
A subsequent tap-in for Ollie Watkins comfortably ended a mostly sticky day, with Villa taking only a second win in eight games. If Grealish returns soon, they may even finish this season with some speed.
But Fulham? Their third consecutive loss will sting, especially with some tough games at home.
Parker was angry. Referring to the psychological unraveling that followed Villa’s equalizer, he said: ‘The emotion of that goal hit us too much and we weren’t street-wise enough. I didn’t like the last 15 minutes at all.
‘We have to work to understand what I’m talking about. Things like that take 15 minutes and you can’t brush under the rug.
‘Sometimes you have to take a knee, like in boxing, to survive and we didn’t have the mechanism for that. But we are right in this race. There are many points to play for. ‘
Fulham’s Mitrovic fell to a loose pass from Tyrone Mings and Emi Martinez ran
Mings was punished when his pass back to his goalkeeper was intercepted by the Fulham man
Villa’s manager Dean Smith was able to ride the irritation of Grealish’s loss for another game.
He said: ‘He felt uncomfortable during training and we had to pull him out. He wants to play, so if he says there is pain, you have to pay attention. We have exercised caution. It’s a miss for us, but the players have shown that they can win without him.
“Jack makes us better with his quality, but we have good players here.”
With Grealish out, Smith made only one change in the Tottenham-defeated team before the international break.
That saw Trezeguet on the left side of Villa’s standout three replaced by Anwar El Ghazi, though in the end it was the mid-game reversal of that decision that saved Villa.
Parker’s big call was to bring in Mitrovic for a first start since early February. Five goals in three games during his adventures with Serbia were undoubtedly the cause of the issue, and what the team won was a confident striker.
Indeed, his first significant contribution was an attempt to shoot from close range to mid-range, and within the first 10 minutes he had launched two more attacks on target. Quite hectic things, and also an indication of Fulham’s strong start, including Bobby De Cordova-Reid who misjudged a free header.
Villa was awarded a penalty after Mario Lemina brought down Watkins, but it was overturned
Referee Andy Madley was sent to the monitor and chose to reverse his original decision
Villa offered very little until Watkins was denied a penalty in the first half of injury time by the VAR system. Andy Madley had initially fouled Mario Lemina, but reversed his decision after looking at the pitchside monitor.
The breakthrough, scored around the hour, came from two Villa errors. The first saw Morgan Sanson lose possession under pressure, before Tyrone Mings missed a back pass in the ensuing clean-up, allowing Mitrovic to bypass Martinez and finish.
Fulham flew but they came back abruptly, helped by Smith’s three changes.
It was Trezeguet who turned the game around, first with a neat finish from a Mings pull-back and then via a volley from a Keinan Davis cross. Watkins closed it after powerful work by Bertrand Traore.
As a result, Scott Parker’s side remains in the bottom three with seven games to play